Debate has ensued over a K311 million approval by President Lazarus Chakwera for Vice-President Saulos Chilima’s wife, Mary, to receive medical treatment in South Africa.
Through an official memo from the Office of the President and Cabinet reference number CAB/36/11 which went viral yesterday, the President, currently in the United States of America for the 77th United Nations General Assembly, approved the funding on Monday, September 19 after the Office of the Vice-President sought his approval.
The memo reads in part: “I would like to inform Your Excellency that following your Excellency’s instruction, my office engaged the Secretary to the Treasury and reviewed an initial budget for the medical trip amounting to K311.98 million which the Office of the Vice-President had earlier submitted.
“The budget comprised expenses for accommodation, air travel fares, external travel allowances, vehicle hiring charges, local security costs and food rations for Madam Mary Chilima and four support staff.”
Office of the Vice-President director of communications Pilirani Phiri yesterday confirmed that Mary Chilima was in need of specialist medical attention abroad.
He said: “I do confirm that Mrs. Mary Chilima is in need of medical attention in South Africa. But we will not be drawn into explaining the details of her illness and ancillary costs.”
The revelation yesterday sparked debate on social media platforms with some people raising eyebrows that the budget was on the higher side while others questioned its legality.
But in an interview yesterday, private practice lawyer George Kadzipatike said there is nothing wrong in the government providing for such expenses as that is provided for under the law.
He said under Part II of the Schedule to Presidents (Salaries and Benefits) Act, the government is under legal duty to provide medical cover for the spouse and children of the Vice-President under the age of 18.
Said Kadzipatike: “In cases where government has not secured such medical insurance cover, the Treasury must foot the bills.
“Taking into account the honour of the high office of the Vice-President and the devaluation of the Malawi kwacha, I am not surprised with the figure, although I am not aware of other material factors such as the kind of the medical procedure to be undertaken and the duration the procedure will take in South Africa.”
But Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi president Dr. Victor Mithi said Mary Chilima’s case should give authorities food for thought on the need to invest in robust local health systems to save resources.
He said the society was aggrieved with the current state of healthcare in Malawi because the country has highly trained medical doctors who cannot offer most of the specialised services because hospitals are not fully equipped.
“We are calling on the government to act. Let us improve our health care systems, we have the human resource, but the only thing lacking is the equipment and drugs support,” said Mithi.
Malawi lacks specialised facilities for most ailments, including cancers, forcing people to seek such medical treatment abroad, either funded by government or private health insurance schemes.